Holiday superfoods

Amanda O'Brien
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Many people focus on holiday foods to limit this time of year, when in fact it might be more productive if we do the opposite.

There are so many holiday foods which are high in nutritional value and can protect your health for the new year and many years to come. Below are just a select few.

Pecans. These nuts are high in nutrients like fibre, protein, healthy fats, vitamin E, copper and magnesium. They are very high in antioxidants, and in comparison to other tree nuts, such as almonds, pecans actually outrank them in this nutrient category. With their high antioxidant content, they are heart health promoters, and thought to reduce the risk of disease by improving cholesterol and preventing artery hardening.

When choosing pecans, opt for ones that are unsalted, and if choosing shelled nuts, go for ones that don’t rattle when shaken (indicating a fresh, and not old, nut).

Cranberries. These bright red berries are an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of fibre and vitamin E. Similar to many of the foods on this list, they are also very high in antioxidants and, in particular, a kind called proanthocyanidins, the same kind found in blueberries. They are helpful in preventing urinary tract infections because they prevent bacteria from sticking around, and are thought to be good for the prevention of stomach ulcers, for the very same reason.

Instead of going for canned cranberry jelly, which can be at least 100 calories for three to four tablespoons and lower in fibre than the real thing, take some time to make fresh cranberry jelly using whole cranberries which are readily available in many grocery stores now.

Apples. Despite this fruit being available in many varieties and varying widely in tartness and sweetness, apples are full of vitamin C, potassium, fibre and antioxidants. Many studies have shown an association between high antioxidant capacity and a reduced risk of chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease and asthma. When eating apples, always choose the fruit over the juice, and eat the fruit with the peel on. Aside from apple pie, try coring apples, filling the centre with a mix of spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, favourite dried fruits and nuts, and then baking this for a healthier dessert.

Sweet potatoes. These are an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, calcium and vitamin A. They have a low glycemic index and research suggests they may even decrease blood sugars in people with diabetes and improve the body’s ability to use insulin. Many of the nutrients in a sweet potato can be affected by high heat or cooking in water, so roast, steam or bake this orange veggie to retain most of it’s nutritional value. To reduce calories in holiday dishes, forgo marshmallow toppings and butter, and instead try whipping these potatoes with orange juice.

Brussels sprouts. These green veggies contain vitamins A and C, folic acid and fibre. Experts believe that cruciferous vegetables such as this may help prevent certain cancers. Avoid pouring heavy cream, high fat cheese or bacon on the sprouts, and instead choose to bake or saute them with tasty shallots and balsamic vinegar.

Pomegranates. Like most all other fruits, pomegranates have vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants. Science shows that pomegranate seeds can be beneficial for reducing the risk for heart disease, certain cancers like prostate, and also preventing inflammation in the body and potentially slowing the progression of Alzhemier’s disease or arthritis. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds on salads, soups and desserts, or add a little antioxidant to your holiday drink by adding seeds or pomegranate juice to a festive cocktail.

Dark chocolate. This superfood is rich in naturally occurring antioxidants which have been associated with lower risks for heart disease, decreased blood pressure and improved cholesterol. Newer evidence suggests it might even improve cognition. Look for dark chocolate which is high in cocoa solids, at least 70 per cent. The higher this percentage, the higher the amount of heart health benefits.

Nutmeg, cinnamon and clove. It’s not just the foods this season that hold big health benefits. Spices like these can also pack a powerful antioxidant punch. By consuming a variety of antioxidants, your body can help protect itself by preventing chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer, and even feuding off older age wrinkles. Sprinkle cinnamon or nutmeg on baked fruits like apples and pears, and add spices to warm drinks like lattes, apple cider and hot cocoa.

Ground cloves have a strong aroma, and for those who aren’t used to using this spice, a good general rule of thumb is it can essentially be used anywhere where you would use cinnamon. Try baked goods, hot cereals, baked and stewed fruits.

Amanda O’Brien is a registered dietitian in St. John’s. Contact her through the website:

Geographic location: Brussels

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